Learning From ultra-Orthodox Women to Get Bedouin Into High-tech

Entrepreneurs plan to bring Bedouin into industry by training them as software inspectors.

Israel’s high-tech industry is a closed clique of members of the elite who served in the Israeli army's technology units and went to leading universities. As TheMarker revealed this week, 37 percent of start-up employees are graduates of the army’s technology units. Most high-tech personnel are men who live in the center of the country, and over the years the number of people employed in the industry has remained stable, at 9 to 11 percent of the number of employees in the workforce.

But over the years, other populations have gradually begun entering the high-tech industry. The first ones were Haredi women, who spotted the potential for earning higher salaries than what was customary in their environment.

The link in the value chain that the Haredi women chose to join first was quality assurance. By establishing near-shore (as opposed to offshore) employment centers that correspond to the Haredi women’s needs, the women became an alternative to competitors in India and Eastern Europe. Later on, the women started to be employed in additional areas, and went farther up the value chain.

There is another population that would like to adopt that model in high-tech industry: the Bedouins of the Negev, who are completely absent from the field.

Ibrahim Sana, who describes himself as the first Bedouin high-tech entrepreneur, is setting up the first Bedouin near-shore project in Israel together with fellow entrepreneur Nir Doron, under the auspices of topXite, a software company in Be’er Sheva.

Their goal is to integrate engineering and computer science graduates from the Bedouin sector into the high-tech industry as software inspectors.

The Bedouin students undergo a two-month training course at Ness College in Be’er Sheva. Similar courses on the private market cost NIS 10,000 to 15,000, but the two entrepreneurs are providing the funding out of pocket. The Rian non-profit organization for the promotion of sports, education and traffic accident prevention also subsidizes the project.

Sana, one of 13 siblings, grew up in Lakiya, where he still lives today. He became a high-tech entrepreneur after spending several years in Israeli high-tech companies. “My father owned a feed store in Be’er Sheva,” he says. “Today, all my brothers and sisters have bachelor’s degrees at least, and are employed in the free professions.” After earning his bachelor’s degree in the Computer Science Department of the Technion, he got a master’s degree at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, where his cousin, Jihad Sana, works as a lecturer in computer science.

While the program was being put together, Sana and Doron met with Bedouin graduates of technological programs who had not succeeded in finding work in their field. “A Bedouin high-tech person can work as a teacher or in computerization or pumping gas,” says Doron.

“The inspiration for our model came from the Haredi women. The project will turn the Bedouin from a burden on the state to a benefit to the country,” says Sana. “Every few years, the government sets up a program to improve the situation of the Bedouin. Today, too, there’s a program headed by Doron Almog, a major-general in the reserves, whose purpose is to improve the employment situation and economic development. So far, we haven’t seen any results of these programs. I figure that as long as it doesn’t come from within the population, it will be hard to institute change from outside.”

Over the weekend, the first class of about 20 Bedouin, one-third of them women, will graduate. “We felt it would be easier to bring them into the field as software inspectors,” Doron says. Later on, once the graduates are integrated into the industry, another class will begin studies.

Doron Appelbaum
Dror Artzi